Maharashtra set to brand its rice & tur, floats a tender to appoint a consultant for the exercise


Although India is known the world over for its basmati rice, there are hundreds of local non-basmati varieties that are rich in taste and aroma but still not known to urban consumers. Maharashtra is likely to be the first state to take steps for branding and marketing of these varieties.

Maharashtra, a major producer of pulses but not so known for rice, has recently floated a tender to appoint a consultant for branding rice and tur. "There are at least 26 rice varieties in the five districts of Vidarbha. So are there other varieties much superior to the basmati rice in Konkan and western Maharashtra. But urban consumers do not know about them," said Maharashtra agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil while speaking to ET.

"The farmer growing these varieties is at the mercy of the single government procurement system or rice millers. There is some price stability since the ban on exports of non-basmati rice is removed. Branding and direct marketing by farmers' groups will not only increase the price received by farmers by at least 40%, it will also lead to an improvement in productivity. We have already experienced success in the direct marketing of vegetables by farmers in Mumbai," said Vikhe Patil.

Consumers in Maharashtra pay 50- 60 per kg for aromatic non-basmati varieties like Ambemohar and Kolam, which are imported from other states. Rajesh Shah, one of the biggest dealers of the Kohinoor brand basmati rice, said, "Lower quantities of production, non-availability of state-of-the-art rice mills and lack of marketing have been the reasons for the local rice varieties not becoming brands."

Vikhe Patil made it clear that the state government does not want to get into the business of buying and selling commodities. "We will appoint a consultant to find out a mechanism by which the state government can act as a facilitator. If need be, we will also invest in setting up the infrastructure for value-addition like milling and packaging," said Vikhe Patil.

Tur farmers would have suffered the fate of paddy farmers if there was no minimum support price mechanism, he said. Many national brands are already present in rice, especially basmati rice, while pulses branding has recently started by the Tata group and Adani Wilmar. Rajen Sundaresan, executive director, All-India Rice Exporters' Association, said, "According to a guesstimate, about 35-40% of rice produced in India is sold as branded."

Yet the private sector is optimistic about the government's initiative of branding the commodities. "Branding will help in standardisation of products. Packaging in consumer packs helps in the distribution of the commodity and increases its availability. Pulses in consumer packs has a potential to grow at 20% per annum. Branding of pulses started by some private players is in its nascent stage and on a very small scale," said Pravin Dongre, chairman, Indian Pulses and Grains Association.